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Wednesday, 28 June, 2000, 16:13 GMT 17:13 UK
Treasury destroying councils - Livingstone

Mayor Ken Livingstone: "Time for a council fightback"
With less than a week to go before formally taking up his new powers as mayor of London, Ken Livingstone has launched a scathing attack on government control of local councils.

For years the Treasury has been run by aliens whose objective is the destruction of all life on this planet and they're just starting with local government services

Ken Livingstone
He said British town halls have no more independence than the French Vichy regime did under the Nazi wartime occupation.

He accused "aliens" in the Treasury of undermining local government and of treating democratically-elected people with contempt.

Seven weeks after his election as London mayor, Mr Livingstone told the Local Government Association the time had come for a fightback from councils.

He said: "From the end of the 1980s on local government has had no more independence in Britain than the Vichy regime had in France under the Nazis.

"So you just do your best to try and protect your local people as best you can."

Attack on Treasury

In comments that will do little to ease the long-running tensions between Mr Livingstone and Chancellor Gordon Brown, the mayor said: "It has been 20 years of unremitting decline of local government and it's central government and particularly Treasury-led."

Chancellor Gordon Brown: "Aliens" control his Treasury
"The Treasury has always had a contempt for democratically-elected people in Parliament, let alone local government.

"For years the Treasury has been run by aliens whose objective is the destruction of all life on this planet and they're just starting with local government services."

Mr Livingstone was leader of the Greater London Council at the time of its abolition in 1981 by Margaret Thatcher's Conservative government.

In his speech to the conference in Bournemouth the London mayor also took a sidewipe at Mr Blair, pointing out that the prime minister had no experience of serving on a council; Mr Brown, meanwhile, had gone "straight from student politics effectively into Parliament".

"I don't think they have seen the value [of local government] from the inside or have understood its strengths," Mr Livingstone said. "For them they just see it as a problem."

Choice of language 'ludicrous'

Jack Straw: "A bit of Ken extravagance"
Mr Livingstone's latest assault is likely to extinguish any government hopes of him taking a more conciliatory tone towards it since coming out the winner of the bitter contest to become London's first directly-elected mayor last month.

Home Secretary Jack Straw, also visiting the conference, dismissed his criticism.

Asked about the remarks about the Vichy regime, he said: "I think that is a bit of Ken extravagance."

He said the government was giving councils new powers such as over the control of pub licensing and more freedoms would follow.

"The balance is going to shift. There will always be tension between central and local government and that is not only necessary but desirable," said Mr Straw.

Chairman of the LGA Sir Jeremy Beecham accused Mr Livingstone of going over the top in his comments, describing the comparison with Vichy as "ludicrous".

He said: "A lot of the points I would agree with but the comparison with Vichy discredits a cogent argument. It is ludicrous. The language is counter-productive."

Mr Livingstone has found himself in the middle of controversy before when making contemporary comparisons with Nazis.

During the mayoral campaign earlier this year he caused a storm when he said: "Every year the international financial system kills more people than World War Two. But at least Hitler was mad, you know?"

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